Juice isn’t a phenomenon limited to just Los Angeles, but Angelenos sure feel some extra way about juice. You can get it in every form here now, from cold-pressed to activated to wellness “shots.” The promised effect of inviting all of these juices into your life is something approaching the fountain of youth: You will glow, stave off illness and maladies because of the tidiness of your gut, which of course will complement the tidiness of your life, inner and out.
Of course, this isn’t the case for most people; I’ve found myself reaching for that idea of juice, of wellness as purchase, when I’m sick, or feeling groggy after a long night out, or looking at myself in the mirror while sucking my gut into a just-too-tight skirt. Cleanse culture (to which juice is adjacent) is generally too expensive and cumbersome for most people to regularly ascribe too. So, juice becomes the touchstone cure-all, a way to signify your health to not just yourself, but also to everyone who sees you clutching a clear rectangular oblong of bright, but natural, color.
And yet, this juice culture is far away from the juices I grew up drinking, which were often out of small boxes or giant jugs. It wasn’t always the sugar that drew me in, but that sweetness helped serve as a reminder that juice is oftentimes a reward. The thing your parent tucks into your school lunch; the suggestion of health and hydration but also of a small-won vice; the addition of flavor without disrupting your actual meal.
As an adult, I’ve dabbled in wellness juice culture, but those juices are just never enough; neither are the fresh-squeezed glasses I’d get at brunch, or the bougie glass bottles of just-shy-of-syrupy juices stocked in the premium section of my local markets. In pursuit of better juice, I asked a food-savvy (but decidedly not “foodie) friend for suggestions; they steered me toward Placita Cafe.
Placita is tiny, with a front service section as big as my apartment kitchen. Its storefront, tucked away under a hotel but almost directly across the street from Union Station’s Alameda Street side, is almost nondescript; it’s the kind of place where, when you pay with card, the cashier enters your information into a keypad. And scattered among pictures of (delicious) burritos and tacos de lechuga and carnitas plates are banners advertising nothing but beverages; shakes and smoothies, but mostly juices. One banner lists off 30 different fruit and vegetable combinations ranging from the simple (like just orange) to the complex (like spinach, kale, celery, cactus, chayote, cucumber, orange, grapefruit, and pineapple); aguas frescas are served still frothing from the blending. Watermelon is written both as is and as sandía. Baskets of gorgeous, giant green apples top a fridge full of freshly-chopped fruit and whole vegetables. The largest beverage ordering size is an XL, which comes in what looks to be a 32 oz plastic cup the size of a baby’s arm. The XL costs $4.99; the medium, which is perhaps most comparable to other juice place offerings, costs $3.70.
This isn’t to say that cheaper/less sleekly modern must equal better. Rather, the juices, particularly the aguas frescas, at Placita tap into something that sated feeling, of reaching for juice not as a supplement to your wellness regime but simply to your life. There is a pleasure in sipping on juice and chomping on errant chunks of fruit, in massaging your sweet tooth while assuaging your health fears. Can I stave off my looming mortality? Am I buying into a culture that equates purchasing power with health? Will this juice, any juice, make a difference? Placita’s juices can’t answer any of these questions, but at least you won’t be thirstythey’ll leave you satisfied.